Former adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford on Monday sued President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer for defamation, saying in a court filing that Michael Cohen publicly portrayed her as having lied about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump.
Ms. Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels, added Mr. Cohen to her pending lawsuit against Mr. Trump in a filing in federal court in Los Angeles.
In the lawsuit, Ms. Clifford is seeking to extricate herself from an October 2016 nondisclosure agreement she had reached with Mr. Cohen. Mr. Cohen paid her $130,000 in exchange for keeping quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump in 2006, The Wall Street Journal reported in January.
Both the White House and Mr. Cohen have denied any such encounter took place. Earlier Monday, the White House disputed claims made by Ms. Clifford in a CBS interview that aired Sunday that she had a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump.
“The president doesn’t believe any of the claims [Stormy] Daniels made in the interview last night were accurate,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said at a briefing with reporters. “There’s nothing to corroborate her claim.”
Lawyers for Mr. Trump and a company Mr. Cohen used to pay Ms. Clifford have said in court filings that Ms. Clifford could be liable for more than $20 million in damages for breaching the nondisclosure agreement.
The defamation claim stems from a Feb. 13 statement Mr. Cohen gave to media outlets in which he acknowledged the existence of the agreement with Ms. Clifford, and said he had used his own funds. Mr. Cohen added, “Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you harm or damage. I will always protect Mr. Trump.”
Ms. Clifford’s suit said that in making that statement, “Mr. Cohen meant to convey that Ms. Clifford is a liar, someone who should not be trusted, and that her claims about her relationship with Mr. Trump is ‘something [that] isn’t true.’”
A lawyer for Mr. Cohen called the claim “frivolous and ridiculous.”
“The only person that’s been slandered or defamed is Michael Cohen,” said David Schwartz, the lawyer.
The defamation claim bears echoes of another suit involving Mr. Trump. A former contestant on “The Apprentice” who accused him in 2016 of making unwanted sexual advances sued Mr. Trump for defamation after he vehemently denied the sexual-misconduct accusations.
Last week, a New York judge denied a motion by Mr. Trump asking that the lawsuit be postponed until the end of his presidency.
In the interview on “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, Ms. Clifford said she accepted $130,000 in 2016 to keep silent because she feared for her family’s safety.
Ms. Clifford said she was threatened by a man in 2011—as she went to a fitness class with her infant daughter—after a failed attempt to sell her story about Mr. Trump to a magazine. She said she signed her name to statements denying any sexual encounter with Mr. Trump and denying she was paid hush money because her then-representatives told her, “They can make your life hell in many different ways.”
Ms. Clifford told “60 Minutes” she believed “they” referred to Mr. Cohen.
Mr. Schwartz, the lawyer for Mr. Cohen, also has disputed Ms. Clifford’s claims in the interview.
The Sunday interview marked the first time Ms. Clifford, 39 years old, had spoken publicly about what she said was a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump since The Journal reported in January news of the nondisclosure agreement she reached with the president’s personal lawyer.
On Monday, asked why Mr. Cohen, paid Ms. Clifford $130,000 if he denied her claims, Mr. Shah said: “False charges are settled outside of court all the time.”
Mr. Trump hasn’t personally weighed in on Ms. Clifford’s allegations, although he has discussed doing so with his advisers, who have warned him about the poor optics of a president engaging in a public spat with a former porn star.
On Monday morning, Mr. Trump tweeted, without specifying what he was referring to: “So much Fake News. Never been more voluminous or more inaccurate. But through it all, our country is doing great!”
Write to Michael Rothfeld at email@example.com and Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com
Appeared in the March 27, 2018, print edition as ‘Stormy Daniels Sues Trump Lawyer.’